U.S. and international unions have accused Luxottica, the Italian arm of eyewear giant EssilorLuxottica, of violating workers’ right to unionise at a U.S. plant in Georgia. The Italian, French and U.S. governments are asked to mediate.
Reuters reports the Communications Workers of America (CWA), together with the AFL-CIO and two other workers’ groups, alleged that managers of the Luxottica plant in McDonough, near Atlanta, Georgia, unleashed an “aggressive and fear-inducing” campaign to discourage its 2,000 employees from seeking union membership.
Unions filed complaint against Luxoticca
The unions filed a complaint on Thursday under guidelines for multinational firms set by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The guidelines state multinational firms should not interfere with workers’ organising rights.
The CWA said Luxottica, like other European companies, has good relationships with unions at home. However, it operated differently in the United States, taking advantage of weaker labour laws there.
“I don’t think it’s going to fly when the Italians understand that this company that prides itself on having a good reputation of being pro-worker is treating people in America very, very differently,” Dubnau, deputy director of organising at CWA, said.
A U.S. spokesperson for Luxottica told Reuters the company maintains “strong and productive relationships with unions globally, wherever our employees choose to be represented by them.
“In Atlanta, our employees overwhelmingly voted in favour of a direct relationship with us instead of union representation less than three years ago,” the spokesperson added.
Who is Luxottica?
Leondardo del Vecchio founded Luxottica 60 years ago, making him one of the richest men in Italy. According to their website, Luxottica is “a market leader in the design, manufacture and distribution of fashion, luxury, sports and performance eyewear.”
They produce glasses for high-end brands including Ralph Lauren, Prada Eyewear, Bulgari and Chanel among many others.
The plant in McDonough produces lenses for Luxottica’s subsidiaries Lenscrafters, Pearle Vision, Oakley, and other company-owned brands.
A different environment to Italy
The unions say the Georgia plant managers used a company app called “LiveSafe” to warn employees about the alleged risks of union organising. Among the ‘warnings’ were the risk of losing pay and benefits if they succeed in forming a union.
The unions said the app was originally for informing workers on COVID-19 issues. The Luxottica spokesperson said the company introduced the app in 2018. They say it is a valuable platform for reaching employees without access to email.
Organisers also accuse the Georgia plant managers of creating an anti-union website.”We do not believe that having a union is in your best interest or ours,” the website says.
“With a U.S. union, the open culture at Luxottica would change. Your ability to be an individual contributor and succeed based on your own merit and hard work might be compromised.”
The unions also accuse Luxottica’s global management in Milan and Paris of failing to address the situation in Georgia.
The U.S. spokesperson for Luxottica said all employee communications by the company that have referred to unions “are in compliance with U.S. labour laws and common practice for U.S. companies.”
Sonia Paoloni, a senior official at Italy’s biggest union CGIL, told Reuters the company had excellent relations with unions in Italy. The company offered extensive benefits to its 14,000 local workers, including, for example, reimbursing expenses for school books for the children of employees.
“I certainly struggle to recognise the behaviour of Luxottica in Georgia as coming from the same company I know in Italy. If Luxottica did the same things in Italy, we would sue them for anti-union activity under our labour laws,” she said.